COVID-19, the lockdown, the current Unlocks, and the rising numbers of cases, have caused many upheavals in many lives. What has been heartening to see is the number of ordinary folks (aka these Bengaluru heroes) who have gone above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of those affected.
A terrible situation in the city was the inability of several families to complete the final rites of their loved ones, whether due to COVID or otherwise. Mercy Mission, led by Dr Taha Mateen and Mr Mehdi Kali, begun to address this issue. “We have over 10 volunteers who are part of this initiative, and we have completed 100 last journeys of COVID-related deaths in Bengaluru (at the time of writing this). Before the virus spread here, we watched the news from Italy and Washington, of how hospitals had run out of beds, and there was mass burying. This really shook us,” explains Dr Mateen.
He adds that they “did not want our people to face a similar situation in Bengaluru, and decided to form a team to complete last journeys with respect and dignity and as per their faith.” The duo reached out to BBMP officials who were pleased with the initiative; today, they have teams working at the burial ground, and Mercy Angels taking care of those at the crematorium.
Additionally, through 48 Mercy Kitchens across Bengaluru, the team has cooked and distributed 11.8 lakh packed meals, served 215 Shramik trains carrying 2.2 lakh passengers with two meals, water, hygiene kits, etc. They have also cooked over a million rotis and distributed to the migrants travelling on these trains.
Shashank Hegde is based in Agumbe, Karnataka, and through his Hingaara Foundation, leveraged social media to help farmers sell tonnes of produce due to lockdown. Visiting ash gourd farms around the Thirthahalli APMC in Karnataka, Hegde found out that agents were buying produce at low costs and many farmers were selling at that rate to clear their stocks.
He came up with the farm-to-customer concept, and with the agreement of some farmers brought the produce to Bengaluru and sold it. “I started working on a marketing campaign as soon as I returned, made a video with the help of celebrities and leveraged social media. After this, I began getting calls from different parts of Karnataka, asking for help in selling produce. Now we do this every Saturday in Bengaluru,” says Hegde.
So far, Hegde has helped sell close to 15,000 kgs of ash gourd, 10,000 kgs of pineapple, 3000 kgs of papayas, lemons and coconuts, rice, jackfruits, rambutans, cluster beans, and coffee. “I am meeting more farmers in different parts of the state, trying to build a strong foundation with the main idea of getting farmers a fair price,” adds Shashank.
Author and entrepreneur Sudipto Das enlisted his neighbours and college mates from IIT Kharagpur to help feed daily wage workers in the wake of the implementation of the lockdown. With some introspection and some analytical thinking, they came up with a distribution model that could easily be replicated in any neighbourhood, anywhere. “We realised that we could pool in some money and pay the local grocery stores for daily provisions for the people stranded around us. The amount was small, and we managed to raise funds in a few hours, negotiate a good rate with the local grocer, and come up with a packet containing the basic provisions for a family of 4-5 people including kids, for two days. We then paid the shop online and requested one person from each family to collect the packet directly from the shop,” explains Sudipto.
The benefits were three-fold. Firstly, no one had to travel beyond a few hundred meters, thus not violating norms of lockdown or social distancing. Secondly, logistics was not a concern since the delivery channel was the existing retail supply. Thirdly, it ensured that there were no middlemen and that the packets reached the right people.
From 150 people on Day 1 in Bengaluru, this model has grown to reach out to 8,500 people across seven states, taking care of more than 4.5 lakh meals in 45 days.
Trishank Batavia, Medha Prasad, Dhruv Jatti, Dev Bhagat, Zamya Mujawar, Balaji Nitish Sharma — final year degree students from various educational institutions in Bengaluru felt it was important for them to reach out to migrants in need. They set up Bangalore Student Community, a volunteer group comprising of students across various institutions, who are ready to step up as and when need arises.
“In the span of a month, we were able to touch close to 85,000 lives with our 200 plus volunteers and we hope to help many more in our journey ahead. We mainly helped the migrant workers by providing refreshments as well as essentials such as masks and sanitary napkins. We helped them with filling forms and helped provide a few with shelter when they had no way back home,” explains Trishank. The team is now 500 members strong.
Tina Patrao has been a massive support and relief to elderly people living alone, within her neighbourhood of Cooke Town, and has helped many get essentials, medicines, and sometimes emotional support.
“There are so many elderly people, singles and couples living alone, and many whose children are not in the same city or country. The elderly fall in the high-risk category. Many of them are not tech-savvy and don’t have smartphones or believe in online purchases, etc. So it’s
Sharon Clara Yates
Yates has been fostering, caring, and feeding for animals since her early teenage years. Through the years, she has also personally funded the spaying of animals in her area, along with medication for when they are ill or have met with an accident. Feeding around 40 street animals every day, the lockdown increased that number to around 70.
She has received help from places like the NGO Asara as well as like-minded folks who cook for street animals. But with numbers swelling, Yates has gone back to cooking for animals on her own. Losing her own job to the COVID crisis has not deterred her, nor have the complaints of people who are annoyed with street animals. “Every person in the city needs to be educated on why dogs or the voiceless have the right to live in their respective areas. Animals need to live in peace and be protected. Food and animal birth control are important things we should allow but it’s the hardest as only a handful of people are fighting for this cause,” says Sharon.
In March 2020, NEEVA Foundation, an organisation working to empower women, and provide women and children with safety, launched its domestic violence support centre for prevention and intervention to live violence-free. “In June 2020, we had 28 physical abuse cases (till the time of writing this), carried out two emergency rescues, two on-site interventions, and four police complaints being lodged,” says Fiona Martin, director, domestic violence support, NEEVA Foundation. “We receive approximately four calls a day, including issues such as harassment, depression, parenting struggles, dowry harassment, etc.”
With a strong support system of partners, Neeva Foundation provides free and confidential rescue support, emotional support, police intervention, shelter, legal aid, medical aid, mediation, and occupational support. “We carry out intervention with programs such as ‘ring the bell’ and provide support to the survivor, in some cases with police assistance. As shelters were closed, survivors did not have anywhere to seek refuge. While providing emotional support, NEEVA also included temporary relief away from the perpetrator(s) and provided the perpetrator with counselling and family mediation,” Martin adds.
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If there is one name that remains a constant when it comes to any form of relief work in Bengaluru, in the time of crisis or otherwise, it is that of Srobona Das, independent communications consultant, home chef, and activist. As an active social worker, she is associated with several causes and can be consulted to direct someone in need to the right source of help. “Since March 2020, I have been associated with various causes that help the vulnerable communities like the elderly and medically compromised. I started my journey with Caremongers in March, being a close friend and associate of Mahita Nagaraj. I have been associated with H.U.G. since its inception, working on various hunger management programs, and with Feed Your Neighbour from October 2017.
What I do best is connect people and impact them into taking action – be it as a WOAP (World on a Plate) and HUG champion and volunteer, crowdsourcing for larger initiatives like Kerala and Coorg flood relief and more recently Cyclone Amphan. What I do best is to inspire and motivate people into taking simple actions. The world can be a better place, by regular people like you and me. If my life is about making a difference, every single day, it’s a life well-lived”, says Das.